The US Army’s lax supervision was cited in a Senate investigation of controversial private security firm Blackwater, which allowed employees to use weapons without authorization in Afghanistan.
At the outset of a months-long probe, the Senate Armed Service Committee found several cases of “reckless” use of weapons by personnel from Paravant, a subsidiary of Blackwater, itself now renamed Xe Services. What’s more, it documents that the firm was so desperate to procure weapons that it even used a South Park character as an alias. Notes the Washington Independent‘s Spencer Ackerman:
Blackwater personnel appear to have gone to exceptional lengths to obtain weapons from U.S. military weapons storehouses intended for use by the Afghan police. According to the committee, at the behest of the company’s Afghanistan country manager, Ricky Chambers, Blackwater on at least two occasions acquired hundreds of rifles and pistols from a U.S. military facility near Kabul called 22 Bunkers by the military and Pol-e Charki by the Afghans. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia, wrote to the committee to explain that “there is no current or past written policy, order, directive, or instruction that allows U.S. Military contractors or subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers.”
On one of those occasions, in September 2008, Chief Warrant Officer Greg Sailer, who worked at 22 Bunkers and is a friend of a Blackwater officer working in Afghanistan, signed over more than 200 AK-47s to an individual identified as “Eric Cartman” or possibly “Carjman” from Blackwater’s Counter Narcotics Training Unit. A Blackwater lawyer told committee staff that no one by those names has ever been employed by the company. Eric Cartman is the name of a character from Comedy Central’s popular “South Park” cartoon.
The panel pointed to a hiring process lacking rigor, with some employees having criminal records.
It also found that several rules on the acquisition and use of arms in Afghanistan were violated, while US military officials turned a blind eye.
“Why is the issue of armed contractors in Afghanistan so important?” asked Democratic Senator Carl Levin, who chairs the committee.
“I guess the bottom line is that in the fight against the Taliban, the perception that the Afghans have of us is critical.”
He was speaking on the eve of a hearing before the panel on the case about the military contractor. US Army contracting officials and representatives of the company are expected to testify.
In fall 2008, Paravant became a subcontractor of defense contractor Raytheon to fulfill a mission to train Afghan security forces.
On May 5, 2009, two Paravant employees in Afghanistan — Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff — opened fire during a traffic incident in Kabul, killing two unarmed Afghan civilians and wounding three others. The pair have since been arraigned on murder and weapons violations charges.
The Justice Department said the incident created diplomatic problems for the United States in Afghanistan, with consequences for US security interests, according to the panel.
In December 2008, Paravant employees were seen perusing a street sitting atop a rolling vehicle, with AK-47 assault rifles in hand. A bump in the road made one of the arms unload a volley of bullets, seriously wounding one employee in the head.
According to the committee, it was not until the May 2009 incident that military officials began looking into Paravant.
“Hopefully, the army is going to be much more… careful (about) who we contract with,” Levin told reporters.
The panel noted that Paravant instructors were not authorized to bear arms. Investigators found that Blackwater-Paravant obtained weapons from a warehouse reserved for Afghan security forces.
The facility, known as Bunker 22, was under US military control.
According to Levin, only several of the “hundreds” of weapons unlawfully held by the subsidiary have been returned so far.
Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers proposed a bill to ban the federal government and the US military from using subcontractors in combat zones, namely in Iraq and Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of troops are deployed.
The secretive Blackwater was thrown into the spotlight after five of its guards were accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in a gun and grenade attack, and wounding 18 others during a September 2007 incident at the busy Nisur Square in Baghdad.
Earlier this month, Iraq expelled 250 former employees of the security firm. The North Carolina-based firm lost its contract to provide security for US embassy diplomats in Baghdad in May 2009 after Iraqis and critics repeatedly accused it of adopting a cowboy mentality to duties in the country.
David Holmes opening statement to Congress directly implicated Donald Trump: report
Congress will hear first-hand testimony of President Donald Trump's involvement in the Ukraine scandal.
"David Holmes, the state department aide who overheard President Donald Trump's conversation with the US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, said that Sondland told Trump that the Ukranian President would do 'anything you ask him to,' and that he confirmed the Ukrainians were going to 'do the investigation,'" CNN reported Friday.
""Sondland told Trump that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky 'loves your ass,'" Holmes testified. "I then heard President Trump ask, 'So, he's gonna do the investigation?' Ambassador Sondland replied that 'he's gonna do it,' adding that President Zelensky will do 'anything you ask him to.'"
Putting ‘health of all species’ in danger: Trump EPA proposal guts restrictions on toxic herbicide linked to birth defects
"The pro-industry zealots now running the EPA's pesticide office are making a mockery of science and eliminating key safety measures, all for company profits."
Environmental and public health advocacy groups expressed alarm Friday after the Trump administration moved to increase the allowable level in U.S. waterways of a common herbicide linked to hermaphroditic amphibians and birth defects, cancer, and other harmful health effects in humans.
‘Rudy has got to be looking at handcuffs’: Ex-prosecutor says Giuliani will have a tough time in prison
Another Donald Trump attorney is looking at serving prison time, a former federal prosecutor predicted on MSNBC on Friday.
MSNBC "Meet the Press Daily" host Chuck Todd asked former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner if prosecutors would be tougher on Giuliania because he had once been a prosecutor himself.
"It’s tough to figure out, first of all, how Rudy is going to play it because based on what we’ve seen and particularly if [Lev] Parnas flips, Rudy has got to be looking at handcuffs sometime soon," Kirschner replied.
"And Chuck, what does he do? As a former U.S. Attorney, does he want to run the risk of ending up in the bureau of prisons where he will not find a lot of friends in the inmate population," he explained.